5 best non-BCS bowls
The 2011-12 bowl season kicks off on Saturday with a tripleheader of action, so the National Football Post continues its extended bowl coverage.
While there are plenty of intriguing matchups this postseason, let's take a look today at the five best non-BCS bowl games on the schedule.
Outback (Jan. 2): Michigan State (10-3) vs. Georgia (10-3). The last time the Spartans took on an SEC foe, they were smashed by Alabama on New Years Day last season in the Capital One Bowl. This postseason, Mark Dantonio’s squad will look to make amends against a Georgia team that held LSU without a first down in the first half of the SEC Championship game. While quarterback Aaron Murray and the offense helped the Bulldogs reel off 10 straight wins before falling to the Tigers in the league title game, it was Todd Grantham's defense that was the catalyst for the revival as the unit looked comfortable in the second season of the 3-4 scheme. How Kirk Cousins and the Spartans navigate that defense will be key to them knocking off an SEC foe this time around.
Player to Watch: Keshawn Martin - The Michigan State senior receiver can change a game instantly, whether it's as a pass-catcher, a rusher or a return man. He has 7 total touchdowns on the year and could be the difference on punt returns in a close game.
ICONCollin Klein was arguably the second-best player in the Big 12 this fall.
Cotton (Jan. 6): Arkansas (10-2) vs. Kansas State (10-2). Baylor's Robert Griffin III may have been the best player in America this fall, but Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein was perhaps the most underrated dual-threat signal-caller in the nation. In Arlington, he’ll be going up against a Razorbacks defense coordinated by Willy Robinson, who will be coaching his last game for the Hogs after a staff shakeup. Offensively, quarterback Tyler Wilson has seen the Alabama and LSU defenses, so he’ll be ready for a K-State defense paced by linebacker Arthur Brown that is stout against the run but susceptible to the pass.
Player to Watch: Jerry Franklin - The Razorbacks linebacker is the team's best defender, leading the Hogs in tackles for the fourth straight season. The veteran also returned a fumble 94 yards for a touchdown against Vanderbilt in a game that was too close for comfort. Against Klein, this Hogs defense must play disciplined in their assignments. And the unit is led by Franklin, its veteran leader.
Insight (Dec. 30): Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5). The Hawkeyes played a thriller in Phoenix last season against Blaine Gabbert and Missouri. This year, Kirk Ferentz's squad gets an Oklahoma team that is wounded following its blowout loss in the Bedlam game against in-state rival Oklahoma State. This is odd territory for OU fans, who are accustomed to seeing their team compete on New Years Day or later. But Bob Stoops' squad is banged-up, playing without Dominique Whaley and Ryan Broyles, the team's leading rusher and receiver, respectively, as well as receiver Jaz Reynolds. Quarterback Landry Jones, however, will be facing a Hawkeyes defense that has played inconsistent all season. Offensively, Iowa should be able to move the football against a defense that has underwhelmed all season despite having star power across the board. But James Vandenberg will need to make some plays through the air -- this can't be a one-dimensional Hawkeyes offense with running back Marcus Coker leading the way.
Player to Watch: Blake Bell - The OU backup quarterback played huge when the team was looking for answers on the ground following Whaley's injury. The Sooners employed the short-yardage Bell Dozer formation, and Bell scored 10 touchdowns on just 34 carries. He could be vital again when the Sooners are near the goal line.
Alamo (Dec. 29): Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5). Any game featuring the Heisman Trophy winner has to make this list, right? Baylor's Robert Griffin III leads an exciting Baylor offense featuring receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway against a defense that has underachieved under coordinator Nick Holt. Meanwhile, counterpart Phil Bennett will have his hands full finding ways to stop quarterback Keith Price and the Huskies offense. For all the talk about Chris Polk's running ability, his receiving skills sometimes go unnoticed in this Washington offense. Don't expect a lot of defense in this one, especially with two fast teams playing on turf.
Player to Watch: Austin Seferian-Jenkins - The Huskies' true freshman tight end has caught 36 passes for 479 yards with six touchdowns in his debut season, averaging 13.3 yards per reception. He's a dangerous aspect of this offense, especially if defenses key on Polk in the run game.
Capital One (Jan. 2): South Carolina (10-2) vs. Nebraska (9-3). With the losses of running back Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Stephen Garcia, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier may have done his best coaching job this fall since arriving in Columbia. New starting quarterback Connor Shaw is growing in this offense, both through the air and on the ground, and the defense is the best coordinator Ellis Johnson has had with the Gamecocks. It will be difficult for Nebraska dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez to be effective in this game if he can't make plays through the air. As tough as he and running back Rex Burkhead are on the ground, a one-dimensional offensive attack won't work against the Gamecocks' athletic defense.
Player to Watch: Brandon Wilds - The Gamecocks' 6-1, 223-pound freshman running back has three games with at least 105 yards this season and will need to be productive against the Blackshirts to take pressure off of Shaw.
Thursday: A look at the 5 most underrated bowl games on the 2011-12 schedule
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